City-County building in Helena

The city-county building in Helena is seen in this file photo.

Jesse Chaney, Independent Record

Grant funds sought by the city of Helena last year as a result of a community conversation are helping to complete the ongoing renovation of an apartment building that serves people with low incomes.

And the $1,250,000 the city obtained through the Home Investment Partnership grant – administered by the Montana Department of Commerce – came after community members met to assess what needs are going unmet.

On Wednesday, beginning at 6 p.m. in room 326 of the City-County Building, that annual conversation about community needs will continue.

The community needs identified during Wednesday’s discussion will help city of Helena staff and Lewis and Clark County plan for a grant application through the Department of Commerce to address what’s determined to be the community’s most pressing need, said Sharon Haugen, the city’s community development director.

Guardian Apartments, a four story building at 520 Logan St. in Helena, provides 118 units for people whose incomes are 60 percent of or below the area median income as defined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

According to the Montana Board of Housing data effective March 28, 2016, and the most recent available, 60 percent of the area median income would amount to $29,400 for a single person.

With the addition of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Home Investment Partnership grant, obtained through the Montana Department of Commerce, the renovation of Guardian Apartments will total $11,014,683, of which 11 percent will come from Home program funds, according to city staff.

This annual conversation about community needs is required by a couple of programs administered by the Department of Commerce: the Community Development Block Grant program and the Home Investment Partnership Program, Haugen said.

Information gleaned from the community conversation can also be used when seeking other grants, she noted.

The Home Investment Partnership Program has primarily funded new construction of housing locally for people with low to moderate incomes, Haugen said and noted that the Community Development Block Grant Program has addressed needs in housing, public facilities and economic development.

A Community Development Block Grant could be a source of funds to rehabilitate Stewart Homes, she added of the Helena Housing Authority housing that already has a master plan for its redesign.

The cost to implement the Stewart Homes master plan was estimated during the 2016 community needs assessment at $40 million by Helena Housing Authority.

While the community meeting is a requirement for grant funding eligibility, the upcoming meeting will also give those who provide community service providers such as Rocky Mountain Development Council and the YWCA an opportunity to discuss their future needs or the community’s overall need, Haugen said.

The community needs assessment gets people aware of problems within the community and possible alternative solutions, she added.

Among projects recommended during the 2016 community assessment was mass transit within Helena and to other nearby cities, an indoor recreation facility and additional housing for people with low incomes.

Measures to slow traffic on city streets were community needs identified during that meeting, and Boulder Avenue was cited as an example of a residential street busy with cross-town traffic. Updating public affordable housing was another need that was discussed.

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I am a staff writer at the Independent Record covering primarily city and county governments.

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